“For at one time she carried the child under her heart. And it does not go out of her heart ever again.” ~ Niobe Speaks to an Abyssinian Woman from Essays on a Science of Mythology

 Phan Thị Kim Phúc Fleeing, by Nick Ut (AP 1972)

                   

“Yet she continued to weep, and then, caught up in the eddy of a whirlwind, she was carried back to her native land. There on a mountaintop, she weeps but never moves, and even now her tears roll down from the marble statue that was Niobe.” ~ from Ovid’s Metamorphoses

When I first read Kate Daniels’s The Niobe Poems years ago, I was haunted. Many of the poems deal with the myth of Niobe, proud mother of seven sons and seven daughters. According to myth, all of Niobe’s children were slaughtered because of her pride.

 I had just lost Caitlin. The collection touched me deeply, and I have never forgotten it, especially two particular poems: “After the Funeral” and “War Photograph.”

War Photograph

A naked child is running
along the path toward us,
her arms stretched out,
her mouth open,
the world turned to trash
behind her.

She is running from the smoke
and the soldiers, from the bodies
of her mother and little sister
thrown down into a ditch,
from the blown-up bamboo hut
from the melted pots and pans.
And she is also running from the gods
who have changed the sky to fire
and puddled the earth with skin and blood.
She is running—my god—to us,
10,000 miles away,
reading the caption
beneath her picture
in a weekly magazine.
All over the country
we’re feeling sorry for her
and being appalled at the war
being fought in the other world.
She keeps on running, you know,
after the shutter of the camera
clicks. She’s running to us.
For how can she know,
her feet beating a path
on another continent?
How can she know
what we really are?
From the distance, we look
so terribly human.

~ Kate Daniels

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